Monday, August 22, 2011

‘Support whatever the enemy opposes’

Monday, 22 August 2011 12:16 Mizzima News

(Interview) – Poet Ko Lay (Innwa Gone Yee) was awarded a National Literary Poetry Prize for Lan Thit (New Road) on August 11, his 75th birthday. Mizzima reporter Myo Thant interviewed on him on his planned peace campaign, the role of poetry in society, the media and censorship.

Poet Ko Lay (Innwa Gone Yee), centre in white shirt, with a group of friends.

Question: Why did you issue a call for peace on your 75th birthday?

Answer: I once said to Ludu Ahmar that I would go to Aungban to see uncle Dagon Taryar. I told her about my plan to work for peace in 1996, and she told to me to wait. Now the civil war and armed insurrection has erupted again. We must work now. In the past, the situation was abating and it would not have been good to launch such a campaign at that time. Now we hear the gunfire again. So peace work is unavoidable now.

Q: How will you work for peace?

A: We will try to write like the Burmese Broadcasting Service (BBS). BBS writes for information, education and entertainment. We will try to get people to organize and get involved in the peace campaign. We will talk about peace in the media. We will use the Internet. We will start our peace campaign using these tools.

Q: How do you plan to organize your peace campaign?

A: Our message is that all of us are brothers; we are relatives; we don’t want to hurt each other. We will try to find a common ground up to the level of Thein Sein’s government. We will talk about the tragedy of war and try to organize both the ruled and rulers. We will organize the armed groups too as much as we can. We shall raise our voices to be heard on this issue.

Q: What about the involvement of young people?

A: Many young people came to my birthday. They urged me to work for peace. Young people understand they must work for peace. I want to live peacefully and quietly at the age of 75, but they urged me to do this. They are not policymakers, but they will do whatever they are asked and they have energy.

Q: Most of the armed struggles are in ethnic areas. Many people in other areas don’t think it’s their business. What are the chances for success?

A: The people in other areas can also see the misery of war. Let me recite a poem by Maung Swan Yee: Revolution cannot be created, revolution cannot be stopped. Revolution will erupt when the time is ripe. The people’s will is the main cause, when the people signal for a revolution, there will be a revolution. When the people signal for peace, there will be peace. I believe there must be world peace and peace in Burma.

Q: You once said, “Oppose what the enemy supports and support what the enemy opposes.” Do you still believe this, and if so, why?

A: Yes, we grew up with the slogan: “Oppose whatever the enemy supports, support whatever the enemy opposes.” We also said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun.” First, I didn’t like Aung San Suu Kyi. Then Suu Kyi advocated for a nonviolent struggle. She didn’t want to pass on a legacy that political power grows out of the barrel of the gun to the young people. After hearing that, I started to like her.

Q: Can you talk about dictators and one-party regimes?

A: There are three kinds of dictatorships: a one-man dictatorship, a one-party dictatorship and a military dictatorship. We want nothing to do with any of them. We say, no to one-man dictatorship, no to one-party dictatorship and no to military dictatorship. I like Suu Kyi’s role in opposing these dictatorships.

Q: Your manuscripts were banned from publication because of your relationship with the NLD.

A: My manuscripts have been banned since 1999. Suu Kyi invited Kyi Aung, and me to their party headquarters, and we went there and took part in a talk. Since then, we have been banned from writing for about 12 years. I was allowed to write again only two months ago.

Q: Did you have any type of agreement with the authorities?

A: They didn’t say anything to me. Even if they did, I would say, “No.” I am a poet, not a politician. I will not accept even if they offered me a presidential post. I am a poet. I want freedom of speech, freedom of organization and freedom to write.

Q: How was it when your work was censored?

A: They accused me of writing in innuendos. For example: At that time, my father fell sick. It was winter. Many elderly people die during harsh weather conditions. If the sky was cloudy, I worried about my father’s health. Then I wrote a poem. It said something like I wanted sunny winter days with a cloudless, blue sky. But the sky became cloudy and windy with harsh north winds. Please spare my father and give me a bright day. They said my father stood for U Ne Win, the dictator. They just tried to find faults with my poems.

Q: What will you write about now that you are free to write again?

A: I will try to educate and organize people. I am not for “Art for art’s sake;” I am for “Art for people’s sake.”

Q: Can poetry have real affect on people and on society?

A: I once wrote a poem called “Sweat,” and I was so surprised at how many Shan people embraced me for it and seemed to releate to it. Shan State gets very cold. I thought Shan people wouldn’t understand sweat, only cold. I was totally wrong. The Shan are soaked in sweat too. They understood my poetry. They could feel it, and that poem had a big impact on people.

Q: Does today’s literature have writers who can write like the writers of your era?

A: Literature is made up of of four parts: word selection, imagination, ideas and metaphors. I’ll mention a novel that we liked when we were university students; it was written by Khin Hnin Yu and titled “Hmwe,” who was one of the main characters. The writing was so beautiful that we couldn’t resist his words. This was literature. Only people of genius can write such work. Mediocre people cannot write such books. But don’t worry about the emergence of new gifted writers.

Q: What are the differences between daily newspapers and journals in your age and the current journals?

A: In our time, our manuscripts passed the careful inspection of great editors. Our manuscripts were selected and edited by these editors. Editors are for editing. The editors today know only about collecting manuscripts from writers. They are not editors. They reject a manuscript if they think the government won’t like it.

Q: What about the quality of literary work that has to go through the censorship board?

A: We are in a very awkward and bizarre situation. We have to cross this barrier of the literary secret police. They inked over my manuscripts, they tore off pages and they tried to find any fault in my manuscripts with a magnifying glass. You can imagine the difference between living under freedom of expression and then having no freedom of speech. We tried to write cleverly to avoid censorship, and we could do some of the time.

Q: How do you view the role of media when it has to function under a regime of censorship?

A: Here’s a story: two electric light bulbs were lit in front of my house when I was young. I asked my grandfather why. He gave me two reasons. The first one was to deter people from urinating in front of our house. The second one was to help people walking on the road to avoid snakes and other poisonous creatures. Now we have no light. When you switch off the lights, bad things can be done under the cover of darkness. So the media is like the light. If there are powerful searchlights in our society, people will be afraid to do bad things. Corrupt people don’t want to be exposed in the media. They will have no place to hide if the media exposes their bad deeds. That’s why the media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Everyone must understand that.

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